Want Web Address? Talk To The Landlord: Boca Man Leases Internet `Domain' Names

What's a name worth in a dot-com, Internet-crazy world? To Rick Schwartz, names - catchy Internet address names specifically - can be worth millions.

Take www.men.com. He bought it for $15,000 in 1997. Today, it's a virtual gold mine. Why? Because he can lease the address to someone who wants it for a Web site. Schwartz says he's never been to the site and has no say in what gets displayed. He's merely an Internet landlord. He leases men.com for about $200 a day, or more than $70,000 a year. And that' s only one site.

Someone who wants a Web site on the Internet must give it an address so people can find it. However, you can't use an address someone else is using or has the right to use. You have to register the address - called a domain - with a company that makes sure the name you want doesn't already belong to someone else. This has been going on since the early '90s and it's a first-come, first-served arrangement.

Schwartz, a 46-year-old former advertising salesman turned Web mogul, has acquired or registered about 3,000 such addresses since 1997. Of those, about 2,000 are X-rated. Sleazy.com and voyeur.com are among the more tame adult titles he has bought. Some, like men.com, sound tame but are used for adult material.

Then there are the names you can say at the dinner table: tradeshows.com, ebid.com, fishingtackle.com, personalads.com. He recently bought girlscoutcookies.com so that his 8-year-old niece, Jackie, could " sell more Girl Scout cookies than anyone else on the face of the Earth."

Last week, he and a group of about 25 Web site owners were prepared to bid big bucks to buy the drugs.com address during an on-line auction. They lost to an unidentified buyer who bid $834,000 for the name, but they were prepared to spend more than $1 million. (Accounts of why he was outbid vary. The auction company, GreatDomains, says he missed the bidding time limit. He claims there was no limit and that his group was shut out because of their adult-oriented businesses.)

"We could have turned that million into a profit in 12 months," Schwartz says. "It's a bargain, really. Whoever got it, if it's one of the big drug companies, which I doubt, the others in that market will be kicking themselves.''

Schwartz is a symbol of how Net-savvy South Florida has become. In fact, several Internet-oriented business owners have joined to try to do for Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties what Silicon Valley did for California. The businesses are calling themselves the "Internet Coast" in hopes the phrase will give the region's hundreds of Internet companies an identity that lures talented professionals.

"We want to be a hub for the Internet, the way Boston became a hub for the textiles industry years ago," said Jeff Kline, whose company, Accris, develops Web sites. Other companies involved include Internet provider Cybergate, corporate software creator Hot Office and business- to-business portal BizProLink, but not Schwartz. The group's Web page is at internetcoast.com.

Kline says he would like the businesses to join with Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton to nurture new technology the way Stanford University did in the San Francisco Bay area. "The tri-county area has the same sort of industrial cluster and resources that Silicon Valley had 20 years ago,'' Kline said. "South Florida was where the PC (personal computer) was born (at IBM in Boca Raton). And because of the PC, the Internet flourished. We need to capitalize on that legacy to attract the talent that Silicon Valley gets now."

As for Schwartz's corner of the Internet, life is good. He says he rakes in a seven-figure salary and he just bought his mother an oceanfront condominium in Fort Lauderdale with the sale of an address to a New York City company that plans to help students increase their SAT and ACT scores.

Most of his time is spent collecting residual checks and paying the bills to renew ownership of his various parcels of virtual real estate. Schwartz usually trolls various on-line auction sites such as eBay and Yahoo!, where domain owners take bids for various names.

Oddly, filthy.com was free until he claimed it in January. "Can you believe that? It was a steal."

Whether you create your own Web name or buy one, you must register it with Network Systems, which manages site registration for the federal government.

Schwartz avoids brand names like cocacola.com or tacobell.com. Besides being already taken, brand names vary in popularity. Companies fold. Generic names are forever.

"Can't get much better than men.com," Schwartz said. "It's half the population of the planet."

Other names come from catchy phrases he hears wherever. One night a few weeks ago he heard commentators describe a fight between two baseball teams as a "basebrawl." Schwartz signed up for basebrawl.com right away. magazine that her husband had suffered abuse by his squabbling mother and grandmother, Schwartz claimed abuseexcuse.com for his own.

Sure, some purchases are speculative, he said, but he has the luxury of waiting until the Internet grows to the point that someone, somewhere will want one of his domains. "If this was 100 years ago, I'd be sitting with Rockefeller and Carnegie, " he says. "Essentially I own Times Square."

Copyright Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc., 1999

Jeff Houck, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, Want Web Address? Talk To The Landlord: Boca Man Leases Internet `Domain' Names., 08-16-1999.


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